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Audi defends autonomous A8 announcement

Jump the gun: Audi’s new A8 will enter production without its autonomous driving capability because road laws do not permit it.

Lead times meant Audi A8 autonomous tech had to be ready, even if laws were not

Audi logo13 Jul 2017

By DANIEL DEGASPERI

AUDI executives have defended the announcement of autonomous driving capability on its new A8 upper-large sedan, even though the technology cannot be fitted to the model anywhere in the world until legislation has been revised.

The fourth-generation A8, unveiled this week in Barcelona, Spain, has been engineered with world-first laser scanning hardware that enables a Traffic Jam Pilot function to take control of the vehicle on divided freeways below 60km/h.

However, such hardware will not be fitted to the first production A8 models because global legislation around driverless cars has not matched its advances.

Audi head of vehicle properties, function and innovation Mirko Reuter said that from the beginning of A8 development it was planned that the sedan would be engineered for level three autonomous driving, but the company had hoped legislation would have progressed in some countries by its launch this month.

Given the time it takes to engineer a vehicle with world-first functions, it was a gamble that Audi took.

“We designed the A8 for automated functionality, so we introduced all of the technologies that are required for this,” Mr Reuter told GoAuto at the international reveal of the Audi A8.

“I would say that our prediction on how things (legislation) were going to change were a little different in the past and now we’re a little bit, how do you say, ‘braked’ on how we can handle that.

“(So) three challenges need to be met. First of all, you need a legal framework for (autonomous driving) and that’s only starting to happen in certain countries right now. Second of all, you need a special homologation process for automated driving and that’s also just starting right now.

“And then in every market you bring this technology to you need to make very deep validation and testing so that the system can handle every situation in the market. And therefore when all of these three factors are met we will bring the Traffic Jam Pilot (to market).”

Asked whether it was frustrating for Audi to have developed this technology for road use when it cannot be offered immediately anywhere in the world, Mr Reuter replied: “It’s a tough problem.”

Audi cannot finalise homologation and validation procedures for the A8’s Traffic Jam Pilot until clear frameworks have been put in place in various countries.

Mr Reuter said he was certain that Germany would be first to green-light the system, although programming would have to be tailored to specific markets.

“Part of it is tough to handle,” he said. “For example, of course, if you’re talking about European traffic or US traffic, talking about expressway or motorway, where there are no pedestrians or bicyclists around,” he said.

“Of course, the system will be able to handle situations in different markets that are like that.

“If you take a look at China there are a lot of streets where pedestrians are walking around, and right now we cannot allow that to happen, so maybe on such streets in such markets the technical challenge might be a little bit bigger.

“When the legislation is there and the homologation is there, you need to do extensive testing. But if, for example, a country comes to us and tells us, ‘Okay, one year from now, two years from now, we’re going to have this legislation in place and it’s really active’ then, of course, we at Audi can focus on that market.”

Audi hopes the hardware to activate Traffic Jam Pilot will be installed in the A8 from mid-2018. However, Mr Reuter suggested that validation could take up to a year before a full debut is permitted, to allow for weather testing.

“If you’re talking about areas (markets) you will need a winter and a summer for that (validation process) to scope for all of the environmental changes that are appearing,” he said.

“Basically, at least a little more than half a year (will be required) for the validation process.

“(But) of course, we are in very deep discussions with Germany and because of that all of Europe. I cannot really say when the laws elsewhere are in place and when the homologation process in all the countries are met.

“It’s a little bit out of our hands.”

Mr Reuter said Audi would follow Volvo and accept liability for a collision if the A8 was driving autonomously and was found at-fault.

“Basically, if it’s clear that we’ve taking over the driving situation, the car is responsible for the driving and therefore also we as Audi are responsible for the functions misbehaving,” he said.

The bad news for A8 customers this year, however, is that the vehicles purchased before the full implementation of Traffic Jam Pilot would not be able to upgrade their cars if and when laws allow the system to operate, with key hardware being left out of production models until such time arrives.

“Right now we cannot sell something to the customer that’s not homologated,” Mr Reuter said.

“The first production A8s will not have Traffic Jam Pilot on board because we don’t have the homologation for this technology. So before we sell the cars to our customers we need the homologation for this technology. That means the first A8s will not have this function on board.

“We cannot really say right now when it will be that the cars will have this technology.”

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